How safe are SMU students? Journalism project tracks crimes on and around campus

SMU's journalism students mentioned for their report on the University's Clery Act performance. Their story ran in the SMU Daily Campus.

By Bruce Tomaso/Editor

As part of a comprehensive look at crimes at or near Southern Methodist University, journalism students in Assistant Professor Jake Batsell's technology reporting class built an interactive map based on data from Highland Park, University Park, select Dallas ZIP codes and the SMU Police website.

The map, which looks dauntingly busy when all offenses are displayed, makes much clearer sense if you go to the pulldown menu at the top and check by specific type of crime.

The students also examined SMU's compliance with the Clery Act, a federal statute that requires colleges and universities to disclose information about campus crimes and security policies. (The Texas Public Information Act, the state law that requires public entities like cities to disclose many types of information, does not apply in most cases to private universities. But as Batsell's students showed, with enough ingenuity and perseverance, there are often ways to get at the facts.) The students' analysis found that SMU has significantly improved in meeting the requirements of the Clery Act over the last seven years.

The SMU students' research was conducted in conjunction with The Daily Campus and the SMU Daily Mustang. It was undertaken as part of The Light of Day Projectt, a statewide collaboration with other university journalism students, The Texas Tribune and the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.

Full disclosure: Jake Batsell is a former reporter at The Dallas Morning News and a friend I've known for years. He's married to another former Morning News reporter, also a longtime friend. As a member of the SMU journalism faculty, he has a hand in selecting the SMU interns who work with us each semester, writing news stories for The Morning News and as part of an advanced reporting class, and I recognize at least a few of the bylines in the Light of Day package as those of former interns with whom I've worked, and whose dedication to journalism as a worthy calling I greatly admire, no matter how many times I've advised them to get their heads out of the clouds (or someplace) and go to medical school instead.